Lash­ings of love lift pa­tients’ spir­its

Meets the re­mark­able Clarice May, Queen­stown’s queen of kitchen and kind­ness...

Central Otago Mirror - - ON -

To liken colour­ful Queen­stown 95-year-old Clarice May to a breath of fresh air would be a gross un­der­state­ment. She is more like a warm, up­lift­ing breeze of awe-in­spir­ing pos­i­tiv­ity.

One of South­land’s best-known bowel can­cer sur­vivors, and be­lieved to be its old­est, Clarice has spent the 55 years since her own di­ag­no­sis, aged 40, help­ing other pa­tients to get the best out of life. That’s her spe­cialty and what she does best.

She’s been ris­ing be­fore dawn ever since to bake her fa­mous short­bread, muffins, meringues and gin­ger nuts to de­liver to can­cer pa­tients, in hos­pi­tal and at home. The bak­ing comes served with plenty of good prac­ti­cal ad­vice and a warm, cheery smile.

Im­mac­u­lately-pre­sented with full colour co-or­di­nated nails, make-up and match­ing cardies, Clarice is al­ways dressed as brightly as she sounds: ‘‘I just love bak­ing and I love do­ing some­thing for peo­ple that they like.’’

Fail­ing eye­sight means she could no longer drive this year to de­liver her lash­ings of love to pa­tients around the Wakatipu.

When you’ve turned out a mul­ti­tude of muffins like Clarice, fail­ing eye­sight is no bar­rier to be­ing a bless­ing.

‘‘It doesn’t bother me a bit. I can go like a dingo in my kitchen.’’

For those she can’t reach first­hand, Clarice’s en­cour­age­ment comes in the form of her pro­lific hand-writ­ten let­ters, com­plete with up­lift­ing quotes.

Since her suc­cess­ful colostomy surgery soon af­ter her di­ag­no­sis, she has writ­ten more than 20 let­ters a week to can­cer sur­vivors, and other sick and lonely peo­ple, all over New Zealand.

‘‘I still send 15 let­ters a week,’’ she said. ‘‘I just think we should be look­ing af­ter our neigh­bours.’’

For many years Clarice was a fa­mil­iar face at South­land Hos­pi­tal, where staff would call on her to en­cour­age spe­cific bowel can­cer pa­tients, and in­struct them about how to get the best out of a colostomy bag.

‘‘[Hus­band] Bill went to Ro­tary in In­ver­cargill one night a week and he’d drop me at Kew [Hos­pi­tal] to Ward 9 to help pa­tients. At one stage I had nine at once.’’

By the time she re­tired to Queen­stown with hus­band Bill in the 1980s, Clarice had al­ready been awarded the QSM (Queen’s Ser­vice Medal) for her ser­vices to bowel can­cer pa­tients.

Lift­ing the spir­its of those try­ing to ac­cept a di­ag­no­sis was her spe­cialty.

‘‘I’d give them a pep talk,’’ she said.

Eat­ing the right food was para­mount, and Clarice was an early ad­vo­cate of pro­bi­otics, long be­fore the med­i­cal fra­ter­nity, eat­ing and mak­ing her own yo­ghurt from fresh, raw cow’s milk pro­duced on the May’s farm near Win­ton.

Three cups of hot wa­ter ev­ery morn­ing was an­other must – good ad­vice given to her by a nurse dur­ing her own ini­tial six-week hos­pi­tal stretch.

Born and raised on a farm in Cen­tral Otago’s Ida Val­ley, Clarice trained as a nurse in Napier, be­fore meet­ing hus­band Bill at a post-World War II ball. They farmed near Win­ton, where they raised their five chil­dren, be­fore re­tir­ing to Queen­stown.

Clarice’s wis­dom is car­ing, but prac­ti­cal.

‘‘You’ve got your health and you’ve got to get on and be pos­i­tive,’’ she said.

She may be South­land’s old­est bowel can­cer sur­vivor, but at 95, Clarice is still a box of birds.

‘‘In my­self I feel I could push a bus over. I never get de­pressed, never feel lonely. I’m a very for­tu­nate per­son, I think.’’

A strong Chris­tian faith has been solid through life’s or­deals.

While the woman known in Queen­stown for cel­e­brat­ing her 90th birth­day with a pool party fi­nally de­cided to hang up her togs this win­ter, Clarice still meets ‘The Swim­ming Girls’ for cof­fee af­ter their weekly morn­ing dip.

Her re­cent 95th was cel­e­brated with a beau­ti­ful cake, but this time Clarice was spoiled. The large cake was or­dered in. It was great to have ‘‘some­thing that I hadn’t made’’, she said.

How­ever, for Clarice May bak­ing and car­ing for oth­ers is sim­ply what life is all about. ‘‘I tell peo­ple they should treat age like a bank. You with­draw from life what you have put in.’’


Clarice May at home in Frank­ton with some of her tasty treats: ‘‘I just love bak­ing and I love do­ing some­thing for peo­ple that they like.’’

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